Nestled in the heart of New England, New Hampshire is renowned for its stunning forests, clear lakes, and rugged mountains. However, when winter arrives, transforming the landscape with freezing temperatures and abundant snow, only the toughest winter birds in New Hampshire can endure such harsh conditions. In this challenging winter climate, resilience becomes a crucial trait for survival.
This article delves into the lives of 22 such resilient birds, exploring how they endure and flourish in the face of New Hampshire’s winter challenges.
- Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
- Length: 9.1-13.4 in
- Weight: 3.0-6.0 oz
- Wingspan: 17.7 in
About the size of a robin, Mourning Doves are very common in backyards and will often sit perched on telephone wires or in groups in trees. Their soft “cooing” is a common backyard sound. I sometimes see them on my tray feeder, but more often than not they are seen walking around on the ground. Mourning Doves are mostly gray with black spots on top, a pale peachy color below, and pink legs.
During winter, mourning doves adapt by fluffing their feathers for warmth and seeking shelter in trees and bushes. They mainly stick to a seed-based diet in winter as finding insects becomes trickier. These birds are year-round residents in New Hampshire, not just winter visitors.
2. Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
Red-bellied woodpeckers are a familiar sight in New Hampshire throughout most winters. While some may head south when temperatures drop, many choose to stay. These woodpeckers sport a distinctive black-and-white pattern on their backs and a touch of red on their bellies, making them a cool presence in the region year-round.
During winter, they shift their strategy, searching for bugs beneath tree bark and enjoying a diet of berries to stay nourished. From early winter to late spring, these adaptable woodpeckers enter nesting mode, showcasing their ability to seamlessly adjust to the changing seasons.
3. Downy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Picoides pubescens
- Length: 5.5-6.7 in
- Weight: 0.7-1.0 oz
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.8 in
Downy’s are very common backyard birds that love to visit bird feeders. They are the smallest woodpeckers in North America and are always one of the first species I see at a new bird feeder.
They are easily identifiable by their all white underbodies, black wings with white spots, black and white striped heads, and the red spot on the back of their heads (in males, females have no red). Though they do closely resemble the Hairy Woodpecker, another common New Hampshire woodpecker, Downy’s are noticeably smaller.
In winter, these woodpeckers display intriguing behavior by teaming up with diverse groups of birds. This strategy offers them advantages such as increased protection against predators and a greater likelihood of finding food with the help of their feathered companions.
4. Hairy Woodpecker
- Scientific name: Leuconotopicus villosus
- Length: 7.1-10.2 in
- Weight: 1.4-3.4 oz
- Wingspan: 13.0-16.1 in
There’s not much to differentiate Hairy Woodpeckers from Downy Woodpeckers, aside from the Hairy’s larger size, longer beak, and a few other key features. They both have very similar markings and are almost always found in the same places of the country as each other. I have found though that the Hairy Woodpecker does not visit bird feeders as often as Downy’s do.
During the winter, these woodpeckers play a vital role in the local ecosystem, foraging for insects and larvae beneath the bark of trees. Their strong bills and solitary behavior make them adept at surviving the winter conditions, as they tap away on tree trunks in search of prey.
5. Blue Jay
- Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
- Length: 9.8-11.8 in
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz
- Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in
Another very well-known bird species in North America and the U.S. is the Blue Jay. They have a large blue crest on top of their heads with mostly blue feathers along their back and white feathers their chest and belly.
Their wings and tail have black stripes. They also have a black ring around their necks that looks like a necklace. They have several loud, metallic sounding calls, and will often be among the first to alert all the birds in the area of a predator such as a hawk.
During winter in New Hampshire, some Blue Jays choose to stay put rather than migrate. Their survival strategy involves finding and storing food, such as acorns and other nuts, in hidden caches to sustain them through the harsh winter months. While their feathers do not change color, the blue hue remains a constant feature.
6. American Crow
- Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Length: 15.8-20.9 in
- Weight: 11.2-21.9 oz
- Wingspan: 33.5-39.4 in
American Crows are solid black in color, and quite large in size. They are also know for being highly intelligent problem solvers, like their cousin the raven.
Crows will roost higher up in the tree tops in large groups where they can get a birds eye view of everything below. If an owl or a hawk shows up, the roost will call out and let everyone known that there is danger nearby.
In winter, large flocks of crows gather to sleep in communal roosts, providing them with safety in numbers and warmth during cold nights. Crows are found throughout the state of New Hampshire all year long. Some crows do migrate north from other parts of the country, so you may find migratory breeding populations in northern New Hampshire.
7. Tufted Titmouse
- Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
- Length: 5.5-6.3 in
- Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
- Wingspan: 7.9-10.2 in
These little birds are very common at feeders and in backyards within their range. Like Cardinals, they have a small crest (mohawk) that helps you tell them apart from other birds.
Titmice are silver-gray on top and lighter on bottom, with a black patch just above their beaks. The Tufted Titmouse is common all year throughout most of New Hampshire, except for the northern tip.
These birds mostly eat seeds, nuts, berries, and small fruits, and you’ll often see them at feeders in the cold months. They like hanging out with other titmice in winter for safety and efficient foraging. Interestingly, they also store food in the fall and winter, which is a survival tactic they share with their relatives like chickadees and tits.
8. Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Scientific name: Sitta canadensis
- Length: 4.3 in
- Weight: 0.3-0.5 oz
- Wingspan: 7.1-7.9 in
These little nuthatches have a dark gray back, rusty (ranges from boldly colored to pale) chest and belly, and a boldly black and white striped face. They are quick and active birds most commonly found hopping around on tree trunks and branches looking for insects beneath the bark. They nest in tree cavities, and will even use backyard nest boxes.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are found year-round in New Hampshire, but their population often “follows the food” and may head south during winters when food (conifer seeds) is less abundant.
9. White-breasted Nuthatch
- Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis
- Length: 5.1-5.5 in
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
- Wingspan: 7.9-10.6 in
Aside from their white-breasts, White-breasted nuthatches get their name from the fact that they stuff nuts and seeds under tree bark, then use their sharp beaks to hatch the seed from the shell.
These birds also have the ability to walk vertically on trees better than many other types of birds. White-breasted nuthatches have a thick black stripe on top of their heads, with white on either side and on their bellies. Their wings are mostly gray and black.
Both types of nuthatches in New Hampshire cleverly store seeds in tree bark to survive winter scarcity. Unlike some birds that migrate, they stay all year, bringing their lively presence to the winter landscape.
10. Northern Cardinal
- Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis
- Length: 8.3-9.1 in
- Weight: 1.5-1.7 oz
- Wingspan: 9.8-12.2 in
Northern Cardinals are among the most recognizable backyard birds in North America. Males have bright red feathers and a black mask, females have duller colors and are more pale brown with some reddish coloring.
Both males and females are easily recognized by their “mohawks” and reddish orange beaks. Northern Cardinals are found in the southern half of New Hampshire all year, however may be absent or more scarce in the northern part of the state.
Northern cardinals stay all year and don’t migrate, adding vibrant colors to the landscape. As winter unfolds, their feathers gradually lose their dullness, revealing a more red hue. They switch their diet during this time to seeds, berries, and insects.
11. Evening Grosbeak
- Scientific name: Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 6.3-7.1 in
- Weight: 1.9-2.6 oz
- Wingspan: 11.8-14.2 in
The Evening Grosbeak is recognized for its yellow plumage in males and olive-yellow coloring in females, with distinctive black and white markings in both genders. Their notable feature is the large, cone-shaped beaks, well-suited for consuming seeds and nuts.
In winter, Evening Grosbeaks might stick around all year in New Hampshire, changing what they eat to include seeds, buds, and fruits, especially liking sunflower seeds. Even though they don’t come to your backyard every winter, these birds occasionally drop by feeders during the colder months.
12. Pine Grosbeak
- Scientific name: Pinicola enucleator
- Length: 7.9-9.8 in
- Wingspan: 13.0 in
The Pine Grosbeak is a lovely bird with a unique look. Adult males are bright red, while females and young ones are more grayish. They have a strong, cone-shaped beak, and they’re friendly, making it easy for bird lovers to watch them.
In New Hampshire, Pine Grosbeaks visit in winter, not staying all year. In the cold months, they eat fruits, seeds, and buds. Even though they don’t change colors in winter, putting out bird feeders with sunflower seeds, berries, and suet can help them survive the chilly weather.
13. House Finch
- Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 5.1-5.5 in
- Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in
Though they are invasive to the eastern U.S., house finches are not universally hated like other invasive birds such as house sparrows or european starlings. If you attract them, which is fairly easy to do, they may show up in large flocks and mob your feeders.
Males are mostly streaked brown in color with some red on the head and chest, females have no red coloring. Unfortunately they can be prone to a transmittable eye disease, so that is something to keep an eye out for at your feeders.
House Finches live in New Hampshire all year, handling winter challenges. They mostly eat seeds, especially sunflower seeds, and often visit bird feeders in the cold months. To stay warm in winter, they have thick feathers that help control their body temperature.
Even though their feathers don’t change color, these clever birds are good at finding food in the chilly months, making them tough and charming residents of New Hampshire’s winter scene.
14. Purple Finch
- Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 4.7-6.3 in
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
- Wingspan: 8.7-10.2 in
The Purple Finch, found in various parts of North America, exhibits a reddish-purple coloration in males and a brown hue in females. They have a strong beak for cracking open seeds and making a pleasant song. These birds eat seeds, especially from pine cones, and often visit bird feeders.
In New Hampshire, Purple Finches stick around all year, even in the winter months. They eat seeds during the colder months, liking sunflower seeds, so having bird feeders can help them.
Purple Finches are good at surviving winter by using their strong beaks to get seeds from pine cones. Putting a mix of seeds, particularly sunflower seeds, in bird feeders can attract and sustain Purple Finches during the cold season.
15. Common Redpoll
- Scientific name: Acanthis flammea
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
The Common Redpoll is a small bird known for its brown and white streaked feathers and a red crown on its forehead. These birds are compact, and you can spot them by the red patch on their heads.
A unique thing about them is they like hanging upside down while eating, showing how agile they are. Common Redpolls mostly eat seeds, especially from birch and alder trees.
In New Hampshire, Redpolls visit during winter to brave the cold months. They don’t stay all year but head south when it gets warmer. In winter, they stick to a diet of seeds, so having bird feeders with a mix of seeds, like nyjer and sunflower, helps them survive.
16. Pine Siskin
- Scientific name: Spinus pinus
- Length: 4.3–5.5 in
- Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz
- Wingspan: 7.1-8.7 in
The Pine Siskin, a small finch, is a tough winter visitor. It has streaked brown feathers and a pointed beak, well-suited for cold weather. In winter, Pine Siskins often gather in flocks and search for seeds in coniferous forests, using their small size and agile flight to move through branches.
New Hampshire’s winter provides a challenging yet suitable habitat for these birds. The state’s coniferous forests offer both shelter and a consistent food source, supporting the Pine Siskin population during the colder months.
As temperatures drop, some Pine Siskins may migrate to warmer regions, but many last the New Hampshire winter, showing their strength in the face of harsh cold.
17. Dark-eyed Junco
- Scientific name: Junco hyemalis
- Length: 5.5-6.3 in
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.8 in
Juncos in the eastern U.S. are dark gray on their head, chest, back, wings, and tail. This is called the “slate-colored” variety. Their belly to the bottom of the tail is white. Females may look similar or appear a buffy brown instead of gray.
Two good things to look for when recognizing juncos are their pale pink beak and roundish body shape. They are most common in forests and wooded areas where they can often be seen hopping around on the ground.
Dark-eyed Juncos can be found throughout New Hampshire all year. In the winter, many Dark-eyed Juncos migrate from their breeding grounds in northern regions to New Hampshire, seeking milder climates. They often form loose flocks, actively searching for seeds in open areas, including gardens and forest edges.
18. White-throated Sparrow
- Scientific name: Zonotrichia albicollis
- Length: 6.3-7.1 in
- Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.1 in
White-throated sparrows are common across much of the U.S. during the winter and then migrate to Canada in the summer to breed. Their white throat patch makes them easier to identify among sparrows, along with their bold facial pattern of black and white stripes with yellow spots between the eyes. The females often nest on or just above the ground in hidden areas of dense brush and vegetation.
White-throated sparrows are found all year in the southern half of the state, but only during spring-summer in the northern half of the state. In winter, these sparrows can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, shrubby areas, and even suburban gardens. They forage on the ground for seeds and insects, utilizing their strong, conical beaks to crack open seed shells.
19. Song Sparrow
- Scientific name: Melospiza melodia
- Length: 4.7-6.7 in
- Weight: 0.4-1.9 oz
- Wingspan: 7.1-9.4 in
These sparrows are mostly brown on the back and wings, with heavy brown streaks on a white breast that often culminate in a central brown spot. Song Sparrows are very common throughout most of North America and their plumage can vary a bit from region to region. The male of the species uses his song to attract females as well as to defend his territory.
Song Sparrows are present in southern and central New Hampshire all year, but in the north only during the spring-summer breeding season. In winter, some Song Sparrows may migrate to warmer regions, but a significant population remains in New Hampshire. Found in a variety of habitats such as marshes, woodlands, and gardens, these sparrows forage for seeds, insects, and berries to sustain themselves during the colder months.
20. House Sparrow
- Scientific name: Passer domesticus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in
- Weight: 0.9-1.1 oz
- Wingspan: 7.5-9.8 in
Generally looked at as pests, Houses Sparrows are the only other species of wild birds in the U.S. besides starlings that you can legally trap and humanely kill. Like starlings, they were introduced in New York in the 1800s and have since spread across our country like wildfire.
They are mostly brown, with some black and brown streaking on their wings and buffy chests. They are overall aggressive towards other birds, especially around nests.
Unlike many migratory birds, House Sparrows tend to stay in New Hampshire throughout the year. Their resilience is evident as they endure cold temperatures, utilizing a diverse diet that includes seeds, grains, and insects. These social birds are often found in flocks, foraging for food on the ground, or around human habitation.
21. Red Crossbill
- Scientific name: Loxia curvirostra
- Length: 5.5-6.5 in
- Weight: 1.4-1.8 oz
- Wingspan: 10-11.4 in
The Red Crossbill, a distinctive finch with a unique crossed bill adapted for extracting seeds from conifer cones, is a sporadic winter visitor to New Hampshire.
Known for its specialized feeding habits, the Red Crossbill’s bill tips may cross either to the right or left, allowing it to efficiently extract seeds from various conifer species. These finches often move in small nomadic flocks, searching for cone-rich habitats to sustain themselves during the winter.
In response to the availability of their primary food source, conifer seeds, Red Crossbills may undertake irregular migrations to find suitable foraging grounds. During the colder months in New Hampshire, these birds showcase their adaptability by adjusting their locations based on the cone crops of various coniferous trees.
22. Snow Bunting
- Scientific name: Plectrophenax nivalis
- Length: 5.9 in
- Weight: 1.1-1.6 oz
- Wingspan: 11.8 in
The Snow Bunting, a small bird with striking white plumage and subtle black markings, is a winter visitor to New Hampshire. These birds breed in the Arctic during the summer and migrate southward to spend the winter in more temperate regions, including parts of the United States.
In New Hampshire, Snow Buntings are often observed in open areas such as fields, coastal dunes, or farmlands, where they forage for seeds and small insects against the backdrop of winter landscapes.
The presence of Snow Buntings in New Hampshire during winter highlights their adaptation to cold weather and the seasonal movements that drive bird migrations. Their white plumage serves as effective camouflage in snowy surroundings, allowing them to navigate and forage in winter environments.
New Hampshire Winters and Bird Adaptations
New Hampshire is one of the top 10 coldest states in the U.S. and has harsh winters with low temperatures and possible excessive snowfall. The state’s cold climate poses challenges for both wildlife and residents. Winter temperatures often drop significantly below freezing, and snow accumulation is common.
This weather pattern influences various aspects of daily life, from transportation to outdoor activities. Residents and wildlife alike adapt to these conditions by employing strategies such as using insulated clothing or, in the case of wildlife, adjusting feeding and migration patterns to cope with the cold.
Birds in New Hampshire display diverse adaptations to thrive in the state’s varied environments. Some species migrate to warmer regions during winter, while others stay and modify their diets to include seeds, berries, and insects available in colder months.
Many birds have developed specialized plumage for insulation, helping them withstand low temperatures. Additionally, their behaviors, such as communal roosting or seeking shelter in dense vegetation, contribute to their survival.
How Winter Birds Survive in New Hampshire
Winter birds in New Hampshire employ several survival strategies to endure the challenging conditions of the season.
One key adaptation is adjusting their diet to include available resources
Many birds switch to a diet rich in seeds, berries, and insects that remain accessible during the colder months. This dietary shift provides essential nutrients and energy for sustaining them through winter.
Insulation is crucial for winter survival, and birds achieve this through specialized plumage
Many develop thicker, more insulating feathers to retain body heat, helping them withstand low temperatures.
Seeking shelter is another common strategy
Birds often roost in dense vegetation or utilize tree cavities to protect themselves from harsh weather conditions and predators.
Communal behaviors, like flocking, offer additional protection
Grouping helps birds share body heat, reducing individual energy expenditure.
Why do some birds in New Hampshire not migrate?
Some birds in New Hampshire choose not to migrate, adapting to the challenges of winter in various ways. The decision to migrate or stay is influenced by factors such as food availability, habitat suitability, and the bird species’ physiological capabilities and genetics.
Birds that remain in New Hampshire during winter often find reliable food sources, like seeds, berries, and insects, that are accessible even in colder weather.
These resident birds have also developed physical adaptations to cope with winter conditions. Their plumage may become thicker, providing better insulation against the cold.
Additionally, some species adjust their behaviors, such as seeking shelter in dense vegetation or utilizing tree cavities, to stay protected from harsh winter elements.
Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.